HOW TO… Plant a wildflower meadow in your community

From the 1930s to the 1980s, we lost around 97% of wildflower meadows in the UK. However, more recently there has been a surge in popularity due to the far-ranging benefits they offer, providing a colourful landscape thriving with wildlife. This guide from Groundwork aims to help you establish your own meadow for the community to enjoy.

Benefits of Wildflowers

The collective effort since the 1980s to increase and improve the country’s wildflower meadows remains fairly unclear, but what stands acutely unmistakable is their importance to our ecosystem. Their main associated role is providing bees, butterflies, and other pollinators with a source of food throughout the seasons, but they’re also a brilliant nesting ground for birds.

They can act as a welcome invitation for biodiversity to blossom within urban environments too, as well as give its people a colourful reason to get outside and enjoy the natural world. An added bonus is the potential maintenance cost of a successful meadow; to keep the flowers in a decent condition they require seasonal care, in contrast to lawns and grass verges that sometimes need twice weekly care between Spring, Summer, and Autumn.

When to grow?

It is generally preferred to sow in Autumn, between August and October, as weeds will be less prevalent, some seeds also require a cold spell, a frost, to encourage germination. Alternatively, you can opt for Spring, between February and May, and still sow a successful meadow.

1. Preparation 

To optimise the area for wildlife, the larger the space and the more diverse the wildflower mix the better for attracting insects, though if you’re limited, an unused area of lawn space or flower border can work well too. Either way, ensure that your chosen space is open and attracts as much sunlight as possible.

Now it’s time to kill off grasses, weeds, or any other unwanted plants within the proximity of your desired area to ensure as little competition as possible. The likelihood is that your soil is going to be overly rich with nutrients, which will allow grasses and weeds to re-emerge. To reduce the soil’s fertility, remove its top 5 inches using a spade or a turf cutter, before topping the level back up with sand or fine gravel to retain moisture.

A NOTE ON ‘WEEDS’ – Although plants such as dandelions and stinging nettles are native wildflowers, they are known to be very successful in a wide range of habitats, leading to their acknowledgement as a ‘weed’. A weed is defined in the dictionary as ‘an unwanted wild plant which often overgrows or chokes out more desirable plants’. You may choose to keep these native species in your wildflower meadow, however, depending on your seed mix, the dandelions may outcompete the other flowers.

2. Digging & Covering

At this point, make sure that you remove any obvious tap roots and stalks of unwanted plants such as brambles and docks and stalks of unwanted plants such as brambles and docks, as well as getting rid of any further undesirable weeds you may find under the surface. If you are turning a weed infested area into a wildflower meadow, it’s possible to cover with black plastic before Spring, and leaving it for the Summer so you’re ready to clear the bed for sowing in Autumn. Covering will be beneficial for re-emerging weeds within this time frame, as they eventually germinate and die off.

3. Seeds and Sowing

It’s important that you populate your space with native wildflowers, which have evolved over time to best fit growing conditions and times, as well as being most beneficial to native wildlife. Non-native species often create a risk to native wildflowers; carrying disease, over-competing for space, pollination and even water.

A good mix may include Red Clover, Wild Carrot, Wild Grasses such as Crested Dogstail or The Meadow Buttercup. For further information, check out not-for-profit seed supplier, Meadow In My Garden.

To sow, use around 3-5g of mix per square metre of your designated area. To ensure you get a lovely even spread of mixture, blending the seeds with dry sand will help coverage – especially in larger meadows. Tread over the soil with a firm stance to establish the seeds firmly into the ground, and continue to water frequently until the meadow has formed.

4) Maintenance

Though meadows are often very robust and adapt naturally over time, to certify a flourishing wildflower meadow you will need to take part in some maintenance work. Once the plants have concluded flowering, normally towards the end of the season from September and October, keep on top of your area by going over it with a strimmer.

Make sure when working with annuals that they have generated and dropped seeds before cutting back so you have plants for the following year (this does not apply to perennials).

Remove any cuttings to the compost bin so the soil does not build up nutrients, and keep your eye out for any weeds that may emerge over time or those you could have missed when first sowing.

Permissions & Legalities

It’s important to consider the community if you are thinking about creating a wildflower meadow in a public place. Not everyone is overly keen on vegetation and grasses that aren’t mown, an example might be roadside visibility, hay fever, or their ability to collect litter. Your local community will be much more supportive if they are consulted prior to sowing, and may even lend a hand!

It is highly recommended that, before you purchase wildflower seeds, you have the correct landowner permissions to sow them for the following reasons:

  • Casual introductions may disturb natural patterns of distribution, which can be subtle and involve sub-species and varieties.
  • Legislation under the Wildlife and Countryside Act (1981) makes it illegal “to uproot any wild plant without permission from the landowner or occupier” in Britain.
  • Your efforts may go to waste if landowners have pre-existing plans for that area, like tree planting, felling or building works.

There are a number of ways you can source Landowner Permissions:

  • Find and contact your Local Authority, who among other things will be able to provide you with park departments and staff details.
  • Contact your local Electoral Registration Office, which may provide you with the address of the selected site and the name of the landowner.
  • If you think the land might be a preserved park, for example The National Trust but you’re unsure, you can use their Land Map or get in touch by contacting them.
  • Ask around! Your local community is a bank of information, and more often than not they will point you in the right direction.

Where to buy seeds

Most local garden centres now stock UK wildflower seeds, though make sure you double check the label which should say ‘UK Native’. There is also a reason for caution when purchasing ‘Mixed Bags’ of seeds, as exotic seed examples may be included for colour purposes – as mentioned above this could be detrimental to local wildlife and existing native wildflowers.

Find out more

Groundwork’s landscape architects and landscape management teams offer commercial services for sowing and maintaining wildflowers. If you’d like to speak to a member of the team about commissioning them to do this work, get in touch!

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